Entertainment » Vol. 2

­­Abstract Expressionist Prints

at the Worcester Art Museum
By Melissa Pingeton

Alfred Leslie, Untitled, 1956

Alfred Leslie, Untitled, 1956

Mention the words “Abstract Expressionism” and the response is not always favorable ~ many of us cringe at either term used separately, nevermind at the combination that we may associate with difficult-to-understand, often seemingly disjointed, jarring work ~ some sort of visual stream-of-consciousness, if you will ~ that we assume made sense to the artist but just didn’t translate into anything visually pleasing or cohesive for our eyes. But to write off this entire genre would be to do ourselves a great disservice, and, with its latest exhibition, Abstract Expressionist Prints, the Worcester Art Museum wants to make sure that you see the very real beauty and complexity of this genre.

After its exhibition The Stamp of Impulse in 2001, which featured 100 prints by just as many artists, the Worcester Art Museum has become known internationally for showcasing avant-garde American printmaking of the 1940s and 1950s. Since then, the Museum has continued to expand its collection of Abstract Expressionist prints.
With this exhibit, the Museum has another opportunity to present an extensive collection of work that has never been shown in Worcester. Artists in this exhibition include familiar names such as Grace Hartigan, Hedda Sterne, Alexander Liberman, Joan Mitchell, Robert Motherwell, Milton Resnick and perhaps the most universally familiar of all, Jackson Pollock.
Curated by David Acton, Curator of Prints, Drawings and Photographs, the exhibition is comprised of Abstract Expressionist prints that have come to the Museum by gift or acquisition. These prints represent the entire stylistic array that now characterizes Abstract Expressionism ~ Abstract Surrealism, biomorphism, painterly gesture and calligraphy. From miniature drypoints to mural-sized screen prints, the works show a wide variety of printmaking media, and range in scale from tiny to wall-sized.
So what exactly is Abstract Expressionism? It’s a type of art in which the artist expresses him or herself solely through the use of form and color. Artists apply the paint rapidly ~ and with force ~ to their huge canvases to show feelings and emotions. The artists paint gesturally (using loose arm movements) and non-geometrically, often applying paints with large brushes or by throwing it directly onto the canvas. Also falling under the umbrella of Abstract Expressionism is the printmaking technique of drypoint, whereby the artist etches his or her images directly into much smaller-scale plates.

Jackson Pollock, Untitled (Black Painting Number 22) , 1951

Jackson Pollock, Untitled (Black Painting Number 22) , 1951

Abstract Expressionism gained popularity after World War II. It’s the first American art movement to wield worldwide influence and it put New York City at the center of the art world.

Works selected by the Worcester Art Museum include Jackson Pollock’s Untitled (Black Painting Number 22) which demonstrates gesturally painting, with thick black strokes creating a round figure. The piece is a part of the 1951 edition of photo silk-screens of the works Pollack made specifically for a painting exhibition ~ a far cry from the drips and splatters that made him popular.
Another print is Norman Bluhm’s untitled 1974 screen-print. Strokes of gray circle black, along with layers of blue and yellow. More gray drips down the center. All this movement and layers of color show a tension between surface and depth.

Sam Francis, Coldest Stone, 1960

Sam Francis, Coldest Stone, 1960

Coldest Stone, a 1960 lithograph by Sam Francis, shows the artist’s interest in color ~ in this case, blue (He once explained his take on color with “[It] is born of the interpenetration of light and dark.) ~ and action painting.
These three works, and the others that share the exhibition, may be abstract, but regard them with an unbiased eye and you may, as did the artists who created them, find yourself experiencing emotion and understanding from your own persepctive. It was Pollack himself who said, “The strangeness will wear off and I think we will discover the deeper meanings in modern art.”
Abstract Expressionist Prints runs through March 16 at the Worcester Art Museum, 55 Salisbury Street, Worcester. For more information about the exhibit, call the museum at (508) 799-4406 or visit www.worcesterart.org.

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